Kyle Holbrook is about to become a fixture in the Triad arts community.
Holbrook, a Pittsburgh-based muralist, digital artist and filmmaker, brought his Stop Gun Violence Mural Tour to 704 Trade Street in downtown Winston-Salem with a mural depicting a hand making a peace sign and “Stop gun violence” printed to the right. Holbrook is the founder of the MLK Community Project and plans to do future projects in Greensboro and Winston-Salem with local artists.
How long have you been painting for?
I always wanted to be an artist all my life, and I’ve been painting since my first semester in college. I used to draw. Even when I got in trouble in high school I always went to my art classes. I’ve been doing murals now for 22 years.
Why did you choose Winston-Salem for the site of your most recent mural?
I know about Winston-Salem because my godson lives in Charlotte and we go sometimes. I have a friend who lives [in Winston-Salem] for some time and I visited him. It’s a cool city. I like their downtown area. But I also know about the gangs there and I’ve been keeping up with the gun violence and the uptick in this last year and a half.
Why do you paint murals pertaining specifically to gun violence?
There’s a couple different things. A lot of my childhood friends were victims of gun violence. My daughter’s god dad. My best friends at different times of my life. It’s something that’s close to my heart. And then a mentor of mine, an advocate for gun violence awareness back in Pittsburg, his name is Rashaad Byrdsong. He’s had a grandson who was recently killed tragically in January. He was 15 years old. I’ve known him since he was a little baby.
It is heavy. Just as I was talking, the heaviness came upon me. Doing the murals is therapy for myself in small ways, and hopefully it’s a form of therapy for the communities and definitely the families. When you do think about your lost loved ones, it’s good to feel like they’re remembered. It feels like I’m doing it for them, like they’re with me. The pain never really leaves, so it’s good to think about it with the murals.
What are you hoping people take away from your work?
The whole point of it is to draw more attention to the epidemic of gun violence that the country is currently in. People are so desensitized and there are so many shootings that happen all the time. I want to bring it to the forefront of people’s minds so people realize this is a nation-wide epidemic so it doesn’t keep getting swept under the rug. I lost 45 friends to gun violence, and my uncle, who served in Vietnam, knows less people than me that were killed.
I’ve done murals in the past where they’ve become memorials where people go to honor their loved ones. It can be a place, and that’s one thing that public art can do. It can draw attention to issues and become a place to go in the communities. I want people to be thinking of solutions, to understand that we need solutions.
Tell me more about your Community Mural Project Program.
The murals have a curriculum, and the kids go through each step. We do a mural project that goes over five weeks and each kid has a different role: cleaning the brushes, material safety. We have two hours of class a day, each day. The kids are paid $12 an hour and at the end of it, that’s over $1,000. They work closely with educators, artists and managers, so positive role models. It’s through grants and corporate sponsors, and also individual donors. We have one for murals, one for film, one for video. We work a lot with youth on the spectrum as well.
Providing mentorships is important. Positive male role models are important. Also, economics is a part of the problem, and it can be part of the solution. We employ low-income youth through murals and we get them their own bank account.